Cornbread Thinks: Eyes, Use ‘Em

It is the second day of the 4-Year-Old Open in the National Cutting Horse Association Super Stakes. I’m sitting in the top row of Section H, one-third the distance from the judges’ stands to the back fence. “Flynnie” (Sean Flynn) is settling the cattle. Five assorted riders are holding them up, two riders on deck and the cow boxes are full.

We already had the prayer by Tom Holt this morning, and the anthem. Flynnie is dusting the cattle off now; Tom called, “Twenty minutes,” 20 minutes ago. Sean is now headed to the button to call for the perp walk. Show time. Again. I never get tired of watching this.

Russell McCord just picked up a draw and took his seat in the “boss man’s box” with Dave Brian and Tom. Pete Fanning, the judge’s monitor, is also in there. The first horse is announced in and working. Clay Johnson, with his wife, Kelsey, whooping for him. 219. He will advance.

The “help,” one of which is now Clay, are having a conference in the middle of the pen, making absolutely sure everyone knows which cows and where they are. Kody Porterfield is up. 210. He’ll probably advance, but will take a lot to make it through the second round. The third horse is Metallic Boom with Ronnie Rice, aka “Skinny.” 214.5. The horse is owned by Russ DeCordova, a “cowman” and Chad Bushaw’s father-in-law. I could just keep writing this, but my boss lady expects more, a lot more, for her money. So, I best get to work.

There is nothing to this cutting stuff, as long as you know everything. There’s no better place or quicker way to see everything you need to learn than Will Rogers. I can’t predict your ability to “see” what you’re seeing. I can’t predict how good you are at setting aside what you think you know versus what is true, or how well you can grasp the enormity of the tiniest mistake six turns ago that doomed a run. The true artistry in a perfect cut. The intelligence these horses have. How, with a casual ease, these trainers make the most difficult thing go unnoticed. Will Rogers has the best horses and best trainers in the world on display in the best place in the world to show a horse and, most importantly, the best place to watch one. It’s the grandest stage of all, unchanged since 1936.

Adan Banuelos just showed the first horse in the third set. Elvis himself never had this many women whooping for him. T.J. Good is going to the herd with Kory Pounds, showing him his cow. ’Course he has only been looking at them an hour but … cows. The Crayola Crayon Company doesn’t have this many colors. The cows we use here are rental units, and they are what Americans eat (although some will become mama cows). Your basic commercial beef cows. Since our requirements require all the cattle in a go-round come from the same supplier/place, these all have a bright, shiny “W” on their left hip.

According to J.B. McLamb, there are no two cows exactly alike. If you are an amateur cutter, this is hard to believe, especially since they like to save all the black cows for us. “They” don’t want things to be too easy for us. As I type this, a trainer, who has cut maybe three bajillion cows and won millions, just missed his cut. This sport is brutally humbling.

There are no bad seats here; you can learn something from every one of them. One of my first impressions of Jesse Lennox, besides his parents being hippies, was his dedication to learning cows – often spending whole days here when he did not need to, making cow lists and watching how they worked.

I was just reminded, by witnessing it. Nobody has more working time or gets more out of it than James Payne. He and Nadine are expecting their first baby. You know they’re the real deal when the baby shower is in Cow Barn 3, between the stalls and next to the wash rack. Cutting’s never had so many young trainers with so much talent. Several are proven, with credentials as good as winning a Heisman Trophy, Lombardi Trophy or Rhodes Scholarship. These guys are good and studying under the best.

You can’t learn these things anywhere else, certainly not as quickly.

Cornbread Thinks: Come here. It is intense.